I love hot cereal of any kind: from simple oatmeal and Cream of Wheat to the more unusual Cream of Buckwheat. Simple grains cooked gently in water are a common start to my day. But it would be a shame to stop there. The "ancient grains", those that are common around the globe and lesser known here, make some of the best hot cereal I know.
I love to teach how to make this cereal in my cooking classes. A simple process, but with a few things to know to make this work for you each time. One of the best things that happens to me is to have someone that has taken a class from me report later that they have made a new dish that they have learned and are making it regularly. A woman told me last week, "I love the smell in my kitchen when these grains are cooking". Priceless. Cooking simple food and enjoying all the aesthetics.
Winter, spring, summer, fall- it's always a good time of year for hot cereal although I surely enjoy it more in the cooler months. So next cool morning when you have about 45 minutes, get your ingredients together and make a pot of nourishing whole grain cereal.
I use a wide variety of grains to make hot cereal. And while each of these grains can be cooked individually I enjoy the synergistic effect of combining. If you want to cook them individually just know that millet and quinoa will come out nicely, soft with individual grains holding shape similar to cooked rice. Amaranth and teff, however, make more of a soft, chewy (I almost want to say gummy) mixture that is less appealing to me. So my standard cereal combines a mixture of all of these.
Whole grain teff (darkest brown-then moving clockwise), quinoa, amaranth and millet.
The basics are that grains cook in water in a 1:2 ratio with a bit of salt. Bring to a simmer, cook until the water is absorbed, and enjoy. But I have found that a few more step make for tasty and a perhaps nutritionally superior porridge.
Begin by placing 1/4 cup of each of the grains into a medium sized pot that has a good lid. Use any combination. If you don't have one, that 's no problem. Just add a bit more of another to equal one cup. Add several cups of water to cover the grains. Swish around a bit.
Now, to soak or not to soak. I generally have not soaked grains. But recently I have been hearing more about the benefits of soaking grains before they are cooked. Grains contain two compounds described as "anti-nutrients" or components that actually inhibit the absorption of a certain vitamin or mineral. The bran or hull of nuts, seeds, beans and grains contain enzyme inhibitors, lectin and phytic acid. Phytic acid in small quantities acts as an antioxidant and in larger quantities inhibits mineral absorption, like calcium. Soaking, then discarding the water, will reduce the amount of remaining phytic acid.
Soaking also makes it easier to digest, or break food down into the pieces that the digestive system can absorb. If the "fire" of the digestive system is not burning hot enough, meaning if you eat foods and they don't digest completely, soaking can help get this process going. The cooking time will be slightly reduced which can be helpful.
So now I often soak my grains- but not always. If I think of it the night before I'll set up some grains to soak for breakfast. But if I have forgotten and want to enjoy some lovely grains without the time and effort to soak, I go right ahead and do that.
Grains after soaking overnight. Teff, so small, floats on the top.
Swish everything around a bit and then strain, carefully. A fine strainer helps to hold back the teff and amaranth which are tiny, but there may be some lost. I strain into a bowl so I can fish out the lost grains rather than sending them down the drain.
|Toasting over medium heat adds rich flavor.|
Add twice as much water as grain plus 1/3 cup more. (Caution: if you have toasted the grains the water will spatter when added to the pan. Best to pour it in quickly!) So if you have 1 cup grains add 2 1/3 cup water and 1/2 tsp sea salt. Bring to a boil, stir a few times, lower the heat, stir one last time, cover and allow to simmer for 20 minutes. It takes a few times to know how to set your stove top heat to achieve a gentle simmer. Take a quick peek so you can see, and then quickly replace the lid. You want to keep all that steam in there.
|Gentle simmer separates each grain.|
Pots that have a thick base allow you to cook at a low temperature with heat that covers the entire pan evenly. However, an inexpensive heat-diffuser turns a thin bottom pan into a high quality pan that will cook grains, rice, etc without scorching the bottom. Makes for easier clean-up.
This gentle simmer is soaking into the fiber and endosperm of each grain and at the same time separating them from each other ever so slightly. Resist any urge to stir the grains while they are cooking. Stirring interferes with the fine work of the simmering water to keep each grain separate and will lead to sticky and gummy grains. After twenty minutes, lift the lid and take another peek. All the water should be absorbed. If not, replace lid and continue to simmer over low heat for another 5 minutes, or simply turn off the heat and let the covered grains slowly finish cooking. This works great if you are in no hurry for the finished product. If all the water has absorbed you should see tiny holes across the surface where the water has boiled up. A final check for doneness is achieved by inserting a spoon to the bottom of the pan to see if all the water has been absorbed. If so, you are ready to eat. And if not, just cover and give it a few more minutes.
Grains have taken up all the water.
Now, the best part...toppings. Whole grains are a good source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients in a low calorie package. Adding a smattering of fat and protein balances it all out and leaves you feeling well fed and satisfied and provides the balance needed for an even blood sugar. Add any combination of chopped nuts and seeds which contain both healthy fat and protein. Yogurt and kefir also have fat and protein as well as beneficial probiotics. A tablespoon of butter adds just a touch of creaminess. And then a little sweetness: my favorite is a combination of black strap molasses and maple syrup. Maple syrup contains calcium, and 1 Tbl of black strap molasses contains 600mg of potassium, and 20% Daily Value of calcium and iron!
Fruit added at anytime is great. I'll add a chopped apple or pear during the last few minutes of cooking-just drop over the top- no need to stir.
If you cook one cup of dry grain you'll have about 3-4 cups of cooked grain. You can cut the recipe in half, or enjoy the grains over the next few days. After they have cooled place the grains in the fridge. In the morning, place a handful of nuts and seeds in the bottom of a small pan. Place the desired amount of cooked grains on top and heat over medium-low heat. This will toast the nuts and heat the cereal- this makes for a very quick breakfast.
|Leftover grains makes a quick, hearty breakfast.|